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This is the guide I wish I had seen when I opted to self-host my blog. Before I start with this comprehensive guide, I would list out the cons I found with using a free WordPress.com that made me hasten my switch to WordPress.org (this simply means a self-hosted version and it does not necessarily have to be WP Engine; I had to chip in this bit as I was confused about this for a while). I had gotten to the point where I needed to take my blog to the next level when I realized wordpress.com was going to make it almost impossible for me to implement the necessary changes. What I found out?
- Themes cannot be changed without the risk of losing all content
WordPress offers a checklist to changing from one theme to another and in this guide, one of the major headlines you would come across is BACKUP YOUR FILES. This is because most of your settings are customized to fit the theme presently in use so if you decide to make a switch, automatically the theme may go with your settings so a backup is a necessity if you do not want to run the risk of losing most or all of your content. Now this is where the problem is because to back-up your content, you need to install a plugin that would take care of the back-up but WordPress.com does not support plugins. Or you can manually backup of which WordPress.com does not support cPanel or FTP Access. One more thing, a free WordPress.com does not allow you to upload a custom theme.
- Plugins cannot be installed on WordPress.com
You cannot install any plugin on WordPress.com. It is just not allowed for security reasons. WordPress.com just cannot take such risks, they prefer to manage all the codes themselves. Agreeably, they need to protect themselves from malicious activities but then again the limitations to the users are not negligible. This means Yoast SEO plugin, for example, cannot be uploaded and just in case you are wondering what this does, it is strictly concerned with search engine optimization of your writing and is ranked #1 for WordPress SEO plugins. Writing content that you need to be found on any search engine requires search engine optimization and this is why this was important to me. Even Pinterest Rich Pins are downloaded as plugins so this cannot be enabled with WordPress.com. This means to upload any plugin, you need to change from WordPress.com to a self-hosted website.
- Google adsense or other ad services only function on a self-hosted site
You are not allowed to run ads on free WordPress.com using any of these services as WordPress already runs their ads on your site/blog in order to help pay the bills and keep the free features free. These ads can only be removed if you are on a paid plan. As reasonable as this may be, if you are ready to make money through ad services, it is impossible on a free WordPress.com.
What you need to know while migrating
- Your stats (page views, visitors, hits, clicks, referrals, insights, all that information we care about) and your subscribers/followers do not go with you
Unfortunately, because WordPress.com does not allow cPanel for security reasons, not all files from your free WordPress.com can be transferred to your self-hosted site. Your posts and comments would be transferred to your new website but the aforementioned, your theme and the number of your post shares stay behind. Not to worry though as after you have self-hosted, your stats and email subscribers/followers can be imported. You simply need to contact the WordPress theme to import these for you. They say the response time is between 24-48hrs but they responded within the hour of emailing them and the importation was relatively very swift. You do need to have the JetPack plugin installed and activated on your new domain and connected with your WordPress.com username. Also, make sure subscriptions module is activated. Your theme on the other hand cannot be imported so you need to bear in mind that you would need to install the theme again and reconfigure the settings or go theme searching through the available WordPress options. If you are looking for a wider variety of theme options to choose from, I highly recommend paying a visit to the TemplateMonster which offers 26,640 premium themes and templates that can perfectly cater for any website and make it very user friendly and easy to use. You even get a personal consultant to make choosing the perfect high quality template a breeze. There are so many very attractive options to choose from so I highly doubt you would not find your dream theme on there plus you get a refund if you change your mind within the first 14 days of purchase. You also get free template options. After purchase, your template upload details are sent to you by email.
- Site Redirect
What a site redirect does is to redirect readers from your old free domain to your new one. This one is not necessary for everyone. If your wordpress.com site is in its early days with traffic at it barest minimum, no subscribers, no post shares, this may not be necessary for you. If your WordPress has loyal readers and your content has gotten shares on different social media platforms or forums, or your Pinterest is verified with your free WordPress.com with pins from your website or with your website URL that even have repins or your posts are being found on search engines (SEO optimized content), then you need a site redirect to your new domain name. This is going to prevent readers from seeing a 404 error when they visit or revisit your blog as the site no longer exists since its content has been migrated. A site redirect automatically takes the reader to your self-hosted site. A site redirect costs $17 on WordPress which is paid for by clicking on domains in your admin page, selecting the site to redirect, a box would pop up requesting you to enter the name of the new domain you wish your old site to be redirected to. Enter the domain name and click go. You would then be required to pay for this purchase. I would advise to transfer your site to your new domain first before doing a redirect because any click to your old site after a redirect before migration to your new domain would result in readers being shown your new domain under construction. An alternative to a site redirect is to inform your readers of your move but unfortunately, this would only cater to the people the post reaches before your site migration. Not everyone would get to see this information so you may lose readers and page views.
Choosing a Web hosting service
I think this may be the most important decision in any migration process. This is the one decision that can make or break your site. For me, before I even started blogging, I had done a lot of reading and knew my web hosting service would be Bluehost. It seemed to be everybody’s go to option. It had so many good reviews at the time. Self-hosting now, I went with Siteground as my webhosting service. The question is why did I have a change of heart?
When I decided to self-host, I went reviews searching on blue host because I needed to be very certain. This was the moment I read a lot of bad reviews. This is in no way bashing bluehost as it must have garnered its popularity based on its good service at one point and they happen to be a tad bit cheaper than Siteground as you can get hosting for as low as $3.49 per month as payment for a three year term. The one problem I noticed with this pricing is that you are billed for the three year period immediately when in fact, Siteground bills you for a year only and they make you aware of this move unlike Bluehost. This was not enough for me. Choosing the best web host was very detrimental to my self-hosting process. I needed one that would give me optimum results so I went digging. This was how I stumbled upon the infamous Siteground vs Bluehost. I read as many reviews as I could possibly fit into one head space. Most of these reviews gave statistical explanations as to why one was preferred over the other. Here are a few pictures from the best reviews I came across:
These reviews are gotten from onlinemediamasters
I noted that Bluehost’s customer support was terrible from the reviews I read on this site leaving a particular individual on hold for two hours.
These reviews are from inlinehostblogger
SiteGround Vs Bluehost
#1st in 2017
#1st in SPEED & RESPONSE
#1st in UPTIME & RELIABILITY
#4th in 2017
#4th in SPEED & RESPONSE
#5th in UPTIME & RELIABILITY
SiteGround hosting is recommended by 95% of users.
This test can be used to conclude that response time of SiteGround server’s are 2X faster than Bluehost.
For each review I read, the reviewer always seemed to end with “Siteground is the better option.” It was a no brainer for me. I had found my web host.
I would first like to commend their customer support. I have never seen a customer support with such willingness to help, very pleasant and so quick to respond to any complaints at all with very insightful responses. Let me tell you, it took 39 minutes for my website to be transferred and it only took this long because I had sent in a wrong password initially so I had to reconfirm my password. What is so beautiful about this is that a free migration barely takes any time or effort on your part.
Another thing I liked was how detailed they were about what I would be getting from my WordPress.com and what I would be losing. They make sure not to sugarcoat any responses and this shows their level of competency. This was the response I got after sending in my transfer request:
Siteground offers SSD drives (solid state drives) on all web hosting plans for faster speed. Supercacher is available for growbig and gogeek plans for an even faster speed. They offer enhanced performance with NGINX, HTTP/2, PHP7 and free CDN. They also offer free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate with each account plus they wrote 800+ WAF rules to fix zero day vulnerabilities. They use a top LXC technology and an automated monitoring and daily backup. They also manage WordPress autoupdates for you and easy command line management with WP-CLI.
What’s great is that after you purchase their web hosting service, you get a referral link which earns you additional free months of hosting varied by your choice of plan if you are able to refer someone to use their hosting. You also get coupons for a number of quality WordPress products. That’s not all, you get free tutorials on cPanel, email, FTP, Joomla and WordPress. And you get a free site builder but the problem with this is any previous website content will be overwritten.
To start up with Siteground, you first need to choose a plan. They offer three main plans which are the StartUp plan, the GrowBig plan, and the GoGeek plan. Each one varies in pricing crafted for great web start, web growth and real web geeks respectively. Each offer is listed below with the features they come with. Note that all plans come with “all essential features”.
The only limitations to these plans in my opinion are the limited web spaces that come with these plans. Ensure you choose the one that best suits your audience.
They also offer cloud hosting and enterprise hosting. After deciding what plan to choose, you would need to either register a domain or input your already registered domain if you had one previously. If you are registering a new domain on for example, a start up plan, it costs $14.95 for a year which is very reasonable. Also know that you will inquire more costs if you want additional features to what you already have such as a hack scanner. Once you are done entering your information and payment details, your account is setup. Usually Siteground sends out an email instantly so you might want to head to your mailbox right after. Now you can successfully sign in, click on my accounts then transfer website. Request them to transfer your site for you or if you want to do it manually, the option is there for you as well. On the transfer page, you would learn that sites without cPanel cannot be transferred completely while those with cPanel can be migrated completely. As I said before, it’s not that much of a problem as you would not be losing much information. This is not a Siteground issue, it is a WordPress.com issue. After requesting a transfer, you would be required to fill out a few basic details. Where you are required to fill out cPanel details, as a WordPress.com user, you need to just input non cPanel and submit. You’ll get a ticket number which you need to be accessing frequently as responses come in quickly like I said earlier and you might be required to provide additional information. That’s it. Once your site is migrated, you will get a new admin URL for which you can access your new domain.
After migration of your wordpress.com site, your site will run on the TWENTY SEVENTEEN wordpress theme. Like I already stated, you would lose your previous theme. Your blog will be likened to a new born baby you have to raise from the scratch. Before you change any theme, suggestively download and upload a backup plugin by selecting plugins in your admin page and clicking on “add new”. Once it is uploaded, activate this plugin and do an immediate backup. This would ensure that no matter what gets lost during the theme changing process, it can be restored through your backup. For a backup plugin, I suggest you try Updraftplus plugin. The number one backup plugin on WordPress is BackUpBuddy but you have to use a paid plan. After spending a lot of money migrating, I suppose the best option might be to use a free plugin which is ranked number 2 by wordpress with a 4.9 star rating and over 6 million trusted users. Now that is not bad for a free plugin and it backs up your entire website from plugins to files to databases in less than twenty minutes. What I love about this plugin is that it allows you to save your backup unto any remote storage of your choice such as dropbox, googledrive, Microsoft azure, amazon s3 amongst others. It also has a premium package which comes with all UpdraftPlus add-ons, free upgrades, free support and free storage. You can access this plugin after uploading it by selecting settings on your admin page and clicking on UpdraftPlus. On this page, go to settings to schedule backup time for your files and databases so you do not have to worry about doing a manual backup. Also, select your remote storage if you want one or you can just backup on WordPress. You can download it here.
BACKUP!!! Now you can change your theme and start configuring it to your taste. While configuring, I would suggest to download the WordPress maintenance plugin to place your site on maintenance mode so that nobody gets to see all that trial and error that goes on while configuring a theme. You can revisit “what you need to know while migrating” to know what you need to do about importing your stats and subscribers/wordpress followers and also theme selection. You can also now download and upload all the plugins you need for your website functionality.
These are the basic tricks to migrating from a WordPress.com to a self-hosted domain. If you have any more tips to add, please do so in the comment section below.
Credit for my blog design / theme configuration goes to my software engineer, Uchenna OSUJI